Gerhard Schröder

For other people named Gerhard Schröder, see Gerhard Schröder (disambiguation).
Gerhard Schröder
Chancellor of Germany
In office
27 October 1998  22 November 2005
President Roman Herzog
Johannes Rau
Horst Köhler
Deputy Joschka Fischer
Preceded by Helmut Kohl
Succeeded by Angela Merkel
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
12 March 1999  21 March 2004
Preceded by Oskar Lafontaine
Succeeded by Franz Müntefering
President of the Bundesrat
In office
1 November 1997  27 October 1998
Preceded by Erwin Teufel
Succeeded by Hans Eichel
Prime Minister of Lower Saxony
In office
21 June 1990  27 October 1998
Preceded by Ernst Albrecht
Succeeded by Gerhard Glogowski
Personal details
Born Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schröder
(1944-04-07) 7 April 1944
Mossenberg, Lippe, Germany (now Blomberg)
Political party Social Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Eva Schubach (1968–1972)
Anne Taschenmacher (1972–1984)
Hiltrud Hampel (1984–1997)
Doris Köpf (1997–present)
Children Viktoria
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Religion Lutheranism

Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schröder ([ˈɡɛɐ̯haɐ̯t fʁɪts kʊʁt ˈʃʁøːdɐ]; born 7 April 1944) is a German politician, and served as Chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005. As a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), he led a coalition government of the SPD and the Greens. Before becoming a full-time politician, he was a lawyer, and before becoming Chancellor he served as Prime Minister of Lower Saxony (1990–1998). Following the 2005 federal election, which his party lost, after three weeks of negotiations he stood down as Chancellor in favour of Angela Merkel of the rival Christian Democratic Union. He is currently the chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG, after having been hired as a global manager by investment bank Rothschild.

Early life and career

Schröder was born in Mossenberg, Lippe (today an outlying centre of Blomberg, North Rhine-Westphalia). His father, Fritz Schröder, a lance corporal in the Wehrmacht, was killed in action in World War II in Romania on 4 October 1944, almost six months after Gerhard's birth. His mother, Erika (née Vosseler), worked as an agricultural laborer so that she could support herself and her two sons.[1]

Schröder completed an apprenticeship in retail sales in a Lemgo hardware shop from 1958 to 1961 and subsequently worked in a Lage retail shop and after that as an unskilled construction worker and a sales clerk in Göttingen while studying at night school for a general qualification for university entrance (Abitur). He did not have to do military service because his father had died in the war.[2] In 1966, Schröder secured entrance to a university, passing the Abitur exam at Westfalen-Kolleg, Bielefeld. From 1966-71 he studied law at the University of Göttingen. From 1972 onwards, Schröder served as a scientific assistant at the university. In 1976, he passed his second law examination, and he subsequently worked as a lawyer until 1990.

Among his more controversial cases, Schröder helped Horst Mahler, a founding member of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, to secure both an early release from prison and permission to practice law again in Germany.[3]

Schröder joined the Social Democratic Party in 1963. In 1978 he became the federal chairman of the Young Socialists, the youth organisation of the SPD. He spoke for the dissident Rudolf Bahro, as did President Jimmy Carter, Herbert Marcuse, and Wolf Biermann. In 1982 he wrote an article on the idea of a red/green coalition for a book at Olle & Wolter, Berlin; this appeared later in "Die Zeit". Chancellor Willy Brandt, the SPD and SI chairman, who reviewed Olle & Wolter at that time, had just asked for more books on the subject. In 1980 Gerhard Schröder was elected to the German Bundestag (federal parliament), where he wore a sweater instead of the traditional suit. He became chairman of the SPD Hanover district. In 1985, Schröder met the GDR leader Erich Honecker during a visit to East Berlin. In 1986, Schröder was elected to the parliament of Lower Saxony and became leader of the SPD group. After the SPD won the state elections in June 1990, he became Prime Minister of Lower Saxony as head of an SPD-Greens coalition; in this position, he also won the 1994 and 1998 state elections.

In federal politics

Following his election as Minister-President in 1990, Schröder became a member of the board of the federal SPD. In 1997 and 1998 he served as President of the Bundesrat, but he left office on 27 October, three days before his term expired, when he became Chancellor as head of an SPD-Green coalition. At the 22 September 2002 general elections, he secured another four-year term, with a narrow nine-seat majority (down from 21). After the resignation of Oskar Lafontaine as SPD Chairman in March 1999, in protest at Schröder's adoption of a number of what Lafontaine considered "neo-liberal" policies, Schröder took over his rival's office as well. In February 2004, he resigned as chairman of the SPD. Franz Müntefering succeeded him as chairman.

On 22 May 2005, after the SPD lost to the Christian Democrats (CDU) in North Rhine-Westphalia, Gerhard Schröder announced he would call federal elections "as soon as possible". A motion of confidence was subsequently defeated in the Bundestag on 1 July 2005 by 151 to 296 (with 148 abstaining), after Schröder urged members not to vote for his government in order to trigger new elections.

"SPD – Trust in Germany": Schröder in Esslingen.

The 2005 German federal elections were held on 18 September. After the elections, neither Schröder's SPD-Green coalition nor the alliance between CDU/CSU and the FDP led by Angela Merkel achieved a majority in parliament, but the CDU/CSU had a stronger popular electoral lead by one percentage point. Since the SPD had been trailing the CDU by more than 15 points only weeks before the election, this outcome was a surprise and was mainly attributed to Schröder's charisma and prowess as a campaigner; polls consistently showed that he was much more popular with the German people than Merkel. On election night, both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory and chancellorship, but after initially ruling out a grand coalition with Merkel, Schröder and Müntefering entered negotiations with her and the CSU's Edmund Stoiber. On 10 October, it was announced that the parties had agreed to form a grand coalition. Schröder agreed to cede the chancellorship to Merkel, but the SPD would hold the majority of government posts and retain considerable control of government policy.[4] Merkel was elected chancellor on 22 November.

On 11 October, Schröder announced that he would not take a post in the new Cabinet and, in November, he confirmed that he would leave politics as soon as Merkel took office. On 23 November 2005, he resigned his Bundestag seat.

On 14 November 2005, at a SPD conference in Karlsruhe, Schröder urged members of the SPD to support the proposed coalition, saying it "carries unmistakably, perhaps primarily, the imprint of the Social Democrats". Many SPD members had previously indicated that they supported the coalition, which would have continued the policies of Schröder's government, but had objected to Angela Merkel replacing him as Chancellor. The conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal.[5]


Domestic policies

In its first term, Schröder's government decided to phase out nuclear power, fund renewable energies, institute civil unions which enabled same-sex partners to enter into a civil union, and liberalize naturalization law. Most voters associated Schröder with the Agenda 2010 reform program, which included cuts in the social welfare system (national health insurance, unemployment payments, pensions), lowered taxes, and reformed regulations on employment and payment.

After the 2002 election, the SPD steadily lost support in opinion polls. Many increasingly perceived Schröder's Third Way program to be a dismantling of the German welfare state. Moreover, Germany's high unemployment rate remained a serious problem for the government. Schröder's tax policies were also unpopular; when the satirical radio show The Gerd Show released Der Steuersong, featuring Schröder's voice (by impressionist Elmar Brandt) lampooning Germany's indirect taxation with the lyrics "Dog tax, tobacco tax, emissions and environmental tax, did you really think more weren't coming?", it became Germany's 2002 Christmas No. 1 chart hit and sold over a million copies. The fact that Schröder served on the Volkswagen board (a position that came with his position as minister-president of Lower Saxony) and tended to prefer pro-car policies led to him being nicknamed the "Auto-Kanzler" (car chancellor).

Foreign policy

Schröder with then President of Russia Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 9 May 2005
Gerhard Schröder attending Quadriga awards ceremony with Boris Tadić

Schröder sent forces to Kosovo and to Afghanistan as part of NATO operations. Until Schröder's Chancellorship, German troops had not taken part in combat actions since World War II. With Germany having a long experience with terrorism itself, Schröder declared solidarity with the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks. When Schröder left office Germany had 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest contingent from any nation other than the United States, Britain, France, Canada and after 2 years Afghanistan.

Along with French President Jacques Chirac and many other world leaders, Schröder spoke out strongly against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and refused any military assistance in that enterprise. Schröder's stance caused political friction between the U.S. and Germany, in particular because he used this topic for his 2002 election campaign. Schröder's stance set the stage for alleged anti-American statements by members of the SPD. The parliamentary leader of the SPD, Ludwig Stiegler, compared U.S. President George W. Bush to Julius Caesar while Schröder's Minister of Justice, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, likened Bush's foreign policy to that of Adolf Hitler. Schröder's critics accused him of enhancing, and campaigning on, anti-American sentiments in Germany. Since his 2002 re-election, Schröder and Bush rarely met and their animosity was seen as a widening political gap between the U.S. and Europe. Bush stated in his memoirs that Schröder initially promised to support the Iraq war but changed his mind with the upcoming German elections and public opinion strongly against the invasion, to which Schröder responded saying that Bush was “not telling the truth”.[6]

On 1 August 2004, the 60th anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, he apologised to Poland for "the immeasurable suffering" of its people during the conflict. He was the first German chancellor to be invited to an anniversary of the uprising. In addition to a friendly relationship with Jacques Chirac, Schröder cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an attempt to strengthen the "strategic partnership" between Berlin and Moscow, including the opening of a gas pipeline from Russian Dan Marino-Pipelines over the Baltic Sea exclusively between Russia and Germany (see "Gazprom controversy" below).

Schröder was criticized in the media, and subsequently by Angela Merkel, for calling Putin a "flawless democrat" on 22 November 2004, only days before Putin prematurely congratulated Viktor Yanukovich during the Orange Revolution.[7] Only a few days after his chancellorship, Schröder joined the board of directors of the joint venture. Thus bringing about new speculations about his prior objectivity. In his memoirs Decisions: My Life in Politics, Schröder still defends his friend and political ally, and states that "it would be wrong to place excessive demands on Russia when it comes to the rate of domestic political reform and democratic development, or to judge it solely on the basis of the Chechnya conflict."[8]

Schröder has criticised some European countries' swift decision to recognise Kosovo as an independent state after it declared independence in February 2008. He believes the decision was taken under heavy pressure from the U.S. government and has caused more problems, including the weakening of the so-called pro-EU forces in Serbia.[9] In August 2008, Schröder laid the blame for the 2008 South Ossetia war squarely on Mikhail Saakashvili and "the West", hinting at American foreknowledge and refusing to criticize any aspect of Russian policy which had thus far come to light.[10]

In March 2014, Schröder likened Russia's intervention in Crimea with NATO's intervention in Kosovo, citing both cases as violations of international law and the UN Charter.[11][12] He further stated that there had been “unhappy developments” on the outskirts of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War, leading Putin to develop justifiable “fears about being encircled”.[13] On 13 March 2014, an attempt by the German Green Party to ban Schröder from speaking in public about Ukraine was narrowly defeated in the European parliament.[14] His decision to celebrate his 70th birthday party with Putin in Saint Petersburg’s Yusupov Palace in late April elicited further criticism from several members of Merkel’s Social Democrat coalition, including human rights spokesperson Christoph Strässer.[15]

Life after politics

Schröder's plans after leaving office as Chancellor and resigning his Bundestag seat included resuming his law practice in Berlin and writing a book. He was subsequently retained by the Swiss publisher Ringier AG as a consultant.[16] He rents an apartment in Berlin while retaining his primary residence in Hanover. As a former Chancellor, he is entitled to a permanent office, also situated in Berlin. He spent time improving his English language skills.[17]

In 2016, Schröder was appointed by Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel to mediate in a dispute between two of Germany’s leading retailers, Edeka and REWE Group, over the takeover of supermarket chain Kaiser's Tengelmann. Later that year, he represented Germany at the funeral services for Fidel Castro in Santiago de Cuba.[18]

In addition, Schröder has held several other paid and unpaid positions since his retirement from German politics, including:

Criticism and controversies


As Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder was a strong advocate of the Nord Stream pipeline project, which aims to supply Russian gas directly to Germany, thereby bypassing transit countries. The agreement to build the pipeline was signed two weeks before the German parliamentary election. On 24 October 2005, just a few weeks before Schröder stepped down as Chancellor, the German government guaranteed to cover 1 billion euros of the Nord Stream project cost, should Gazprom default on a loan. However, this guarantee had never been used.[25] Soon after stepping down as chancellor, Schröder accepted Gazprom's nomination for the post of the head of the shareholders' committee of Nord Stream AG, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest. German opposition parties expressed concern over the issue, as did the governments of countries over whose territory gas is currently pumped.[26] In an editorial entitled Gerhard Schroeder's Sellout, the American newspaper The Washington Post also expressed sharp criticism, reflecting widening international ramifications of Schröder's new post.[27] Democrat Tom Lantos, chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, likened Schröder to a "political prostitute" for his recent behaviour.[28] In January 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that Schröder would join the board of the oil company TNK-BP, a joint venture between oil major BP and Russian partners.[29]

Defamation lawsuit

In April 2002, Schröder sued the DDP press agency for publishing an opinion of public relations consultant Sabine Schwind saying that he "would be more credible if he didn't dye his gray hair". The court decided to ban the media from suggesting that he colours his hair.[30] The Chancellor's spokesman said: "This is not a frivolous action taken over whether he does or doesn't dye his hair, but is a serious issue regarding his word." The agency's lawyer said that they could not accept a verdict which "does not coincide with freedom of the press."

Dispute over Estonian war memorial

During a heated dispute between Russia and Estonia in May 2007 over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of the Estonian capital Tallinn to a military cemetery, Schröder defended the Kremlin's reaction. He remarked that Estonia had contradicted "every form of civilised behaviour".[31] Consequently, the Estonian government cancelled a planned visit by Schröder in his function as chairman of Nord Stream AG, which promotes the petroleum pipeline from Russia to Germany.

Personal life

Gerhard and Doris Schröder at the 300th anniversary of Saint Petersburg celebrations on 30 May 2003

Schröder has been married four times:

Schröder's four marriages have earned him the nickname "Audi Man", a reference to the four-ring symbol of Audi motorcars.[33] Another nickname is "The Lord of the Rings".[34][35]

Doris Köpf has a daughter from a previous relationship with a television journalist. She lives with the couple. In July 2004, Schröder and Köpf adopted a child from St. Petersburg. In 2006, they adopted another child from St. Petersburg.[36] When not in Berlin, Schröder lives in Hanover.

Schröder identifies himself as a member of the Evangelical Church in Germany, but does not appear to be religious. He did not add the optional phrase So wahr mir Gott helfe ("so help me God") when sworn in as chancellor for his first term in 1998.[37]


Schröder's first cabinet (27 October 1998 – 22 October 2002)

Gerhard Schröder with George W. Bush, 2004


Schröder's second cabinet (22 October 2002 – 21 November 2005)

Awards and honours

See also



  1. "Altkanzler: Gerhard Schröder und seine Mutter Erika Vosseler - Bilder & Fotos - DIE WELT". Retrieved 2015-12-03.
  2. "Zivildienst: Hat sich Joschka Fischer gedrückt?". 17 April 2001. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  3. Thaler, Thorsten (8 May 1998). "Gerhard-Schröder-Biographie: Horst Mahler stellt das Buch eines Konservativen vor Hoffnung keimt im Verborgenen". Junge Freiheit (in German). Retrieved 7 November 2007.
  4. "Merkel named as German chancellor". BBC News. 10 October 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  5. "German parties back new coalition". BBC News. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  6. Khan, Adnan R. (24 November 2010). "The Schröder-Bush dust-up – World". Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  7. "Gerhard Schroeder's Dangerous Liaison". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  8. "It Would Be Wrong to Place Excessive Demands". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  9. "Schroeder: Kosovo recognition "against Europe's interests"". B92. 5 May 2008. Retrieved 5 May 2008.
  10. "Serious Mistakes by the West". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 21 August 2008.
  11. "Putin verstehen mit Gerhard Schröder" (in German). Die Zeit. 9 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  12. "Gerhard Schröder nennt Putins Vorgehen völkerrechtswidrig" (in German). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 9 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  13. Paterson, Tony (14 Mar 2014). "Merkel fury after Gerhard Schroeder backs Putin on Ukraine". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  14. "Merkel fury after Gerhard Schroeder backs Putin on Ukraine" 14 Mar 2014
  15. Paterson, Tony (29 Apr 2014). "Gerhard Schroeder's birthday party with Vladimir Putin angers Germany". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  16. "Ringier". 2013-02-25. Retrieved 2013-03-17.
  17. "Schroeder's Welsh English course". BBC News. 8 December 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  18. Schröder vertritt Deutschland bei Trauerfeier Spiegel Online, November 28, 2016.
  19. Schröder berät die Investmentbank Rothschild Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 24, 2006.
  20. Governance Center: Gerhard Schröder Berggruen Institute.
  21. Advisory Council German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ).
  22. Board of Trustees Dresden Frauenkirche.
  23. Board of Trustees Mädchenchor Hannover Foundation.
  24. Board German Near and Middle East Association (NUMOV).
  25. Buck, Tobias; Benoit, Bertrand (8 May 2006). "EU to probe German gas pipeline guarantee". Financial Times. Retrieved 26 August 2007.
  26. "Schroeder attacked over gas post". BBC News. 10 December 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  27. "Gerhard Schroeder's Sellout". Washington Post. 13 December 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  28. Dunphy, Harry (13 June 2007). "Lantos Raps Former European Leaders". Associated Press. Retrieved 13 June 2007.
  29. Herron, James (2009-01-16). "WSJ, Schröder to join TNK-BP board, 19 January 2009". Retrieved 2013-03-17.
  30. Finn, Peter (18 May 2002). "Court: Stay Out of Schroeder's Hair". Washington Post. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  31. "How to fight back". The Economist. 10 May 2007. Retrieved 10 May 2007.
  32. (Hanover paper: separation is final)
  33. Brett, Oliver (15 January 2009). "What's in a nickname?". BBC. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  34. Connolly, Kate (15 September 2002). "The Audi man". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  35. Moore, Charles. "The 'Audi Man' is not quite ready to concede defeat". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  36. "Schröder nimmt noch ein Kind auf". Die Welt (in German). 17 August 2006. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  37. "Schroeder Takes Germany's Helm Social Democrat Sworn In As Chancellor Tuesday". CBS News. 27 October 1998. Retrieved 8 January 2008.
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Political offices
Preceded by
Ernst Albrecht
Prime Minister of Lower Saxony
Succeeded by
Gerhard Glogowski
Preceded by
Erwin Teufel
President of the Bundesrat
Succeeded by
Hans Eichel
Preceded by
Helmut Kohl
Chancellor of Germany
Succeeded by
Angela Merkel
Party political offices
Preceded by
Oskar Lafontaine
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Franz Müntefering
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Tony Blair
Chairperson of the Group of 8
Succeeded by
Yoshirō Mori
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